Marty Smith’s Sunday Money: NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting, Chase Elliott’s Victory, and Darlington Throwback Schemes

by Marty Smith
sunday_money

Sunday Money comes at you on Wednesday this week. The Cup race was delayed to Monday, during which I was on a plane to Los Angeles for an ESPN assignment. So I’m playing catch up here.

Wednesday is NASCAR Hall of Fame voting day

It is one of the great joys of my year, a circled calendar date. And it is a most humbling experience. As a voter, each year I sit in a room full of who’s who NASCAR executives, former driving champions, owners, track presidents, administrators, broadcasters and reporters, which collectively spends hours debating the merits of legendary competitors and contributors. The Hall of Fame is the ultimate coronation for anyone involved in the sport. It is a sense of validation that inductees don’t even know exists until they achieve it. I’ve seen that realization from every inductee. No matter what an inductee may have achieved during his career, to a man they’ll tell you that standing at that podium addressing the entire sport and its staunchly passionate fans as a newly-minted member of the Hall is the pinnacle. They’re giddy. I’ve only advocated loudly for a couple of people — Davey Allison in 2019 and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 2021. The stories told in that room are absolute classics. And what’s really cool is that those stories stay within those walls. In my mind there are a bunch of future Hall of Fame drivers in the current Cup Series field. Kyle and Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Brad Keseslowski, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Kyle  Larson are all former champions. That matters deeply in the Hall of Fame mixture. Denny Hamlin has nearly 50 wins, and has multiple Daytona 500 victories. As the sport’s marquee showcase, the 500, too, matters to voters. I cannot share with you until next week which way I’ll vote Wednesday. Literally. Every year I enter the voting room with one distinct mindset on how I’ll vote — and what I believe to be the correct vote. And every year during that meeting I learn things that change my mind. 

Chase Elliott needed that win Monday at Dover

He needed it for himself. You could sense the relief during his post race interview on FOX. He doesn’t discuss it — Elliott is very composed and deliberate in sharing his perspective — but there is weight that comes with expectation. Especially when the expectation is born from popularity and pedigree and the previous successes by which you’re currently measured. Elliott is the sport’s most popular driver, and he cares greatly about that distinction. He’s damn proud of it. Like the sport’s previous most popular driver — Earnhardt, Jr. — Elliott carries a famous last name and a championship lineage. His old man, Awesome Bill, is a Hall of Famer. He also feels pressure to deliver for his team. Drivers are funny that way. No matter what they’ve achieved, they want to consistently prove themselves to their crew. Even though the crew would lay on train tracks for them. Chase Elliott doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone but himself, his harshest critic. Prior to Monday, Elliott hadn’t won a race since July 4, 2021, and he hadn’t won on an oval since the 2020 season finale at Phoenix when he claimed the Cup Series championship. With the win at Dover Monday, he increased his points advantage to 50, and reminded the industry that in a season of remarkable parity, with nine different winners in 11 races, Hendrick Motorsports is the organization everyone else in the Cup Series is chasing. Elliott’s Dover win means all four drivers in the Hendrick stable have now gone to Victory Lane this season. William Byron is one of just two Cup drivers with multiple wins this season. And HMS has won back-to-back championships with Elliott and Larson.

Darlington Throwback Schemes

The Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway this weekend for the Goodyear 400. Darlington is a jewel within the sport, the oldest — and arguably most challenging — racing surface on the schedule. One of the great new traditions in NASCAR is Darlington’s throwback weekend, during which teams run paint schemes on their racecars that pay homage to paint schemes of yesteryear. It is an industry-wide effort to honor the sport’s rich history, and one of the few things in the sport that everyone agrees is wonderful. Take a look at some of the best throwback paint schemes this year. 

1 and 99. Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez


This honors the cars Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr. drove in NASCAR’s 1998 exhibition race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. That event marked the first time that father and son had raced against each other.

6. Brad Keselowski honors Mark Martin’s No. 6 Pfizer Ford from 2004

7. Corey LaJoie honors the 1964 scheme country music icon and former Cup racer Marty Robbins. 

9. Chase Elliott throws it back to Jimmy Means’ No. 52 NAPA ride from 1993.

14. Chase Briscoe’s No. 14 is similar to the car his boss, Tony Stewart.

The car looks similar to the one Tony Stewart drove in double-duty during the 2001 Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600. Stewart is the only driver to ever complete both races on the same day. 

17. Chris Buescher honors 2003 Cup Champion Matt Kenseth’s 2004 DeWalt Ford.

21. Rookie Harrison Burton honors his dad, NBC broadcaster Jeff Burton, by running a scheme similar to Jeff’s No. 99 in the year 2000.

24. William Byron will drive a scheme that honors 4-time Cup Champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Jeff Gordon. 

41. Cole Custer honors his childhood hero, former Cup driver Jason Leffler.

45. Kurt Busch will run a paint scheme similar to that which Hall of Famer Bill Elliott ran in 1996.

48. Keselowski isn’t the only Cup driver honoring Mark Martin this weekend. Alex Bowman’s 48 is similar to Martin’s iconic Valvoline scheme in the 90s.

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